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American held in Iran ends seven-day hunger strike, calls for ‘tough decisions’ to free imprisoned U.S. citizens

Siamak Namazi says the U.S. left him behind in a 2016 prisoner swap with Iran.
Siamak Namazi and Baquer Namazi
Baquer Namazi, right, with his son Siamak Namazi.Courtesy Babak Namazi

An American imprisoned in Iran since 2015 ended a hunger strike Monday after seven days, saying it is time for President Joe Biden to make “tough decisions” to secure the release of Americans held in Tehran.

Siamak Namazi announced the end of his strike through his lawyer, saying he was heartened by the support and media coverage he received.

“The deluge of coverage gave me the strength to carry on when my body was at its weakest. It lifted all our spirits and renewed our hope,” Namazi said in a statement. “Please continue to raise awareness about our plight and don’t get inured to our being Iran’s hostage. Don’t let President Biden leave us in this abyss of misery.”

Namazi lost about 10 pounds and his blood pressure spiked above normal levels after he launched the hunger strike, said his pro bono lawyer, Jared Genser. He also suffered a drop in energy and a reduction in his ability to focus, and he struggled to stay warm, Genser said.

Namazi started the hunger strike saying he wanted Biden to consider the plight of U.S. detainees in Iran for a minute every day of the seven-day strike — one minute for each of the seven years he has been behind bars since, he said, he was “left behind” in a January 2016 U.S.-Iran prisoner exchange.

“I went on hunger strike because I’ve learned the hard way that U.S. presidents tend to rely more on their political thermometer than their moral compass when deciding whether or not to enter a prisoner deal with Iran — or indeed who to include in one,” Namazi said in his statement.

“I denied myself food for an entire week so that maybe President Biden will recognize just how desperate the situation of the U.S. hostages here has become. So that he may realize that we have suffered far too much for far too long, and that it is time to match claims that freeing us is a U.S. government priority with the tough decisions needed to bring us home. All of us,” he said.

Two other U.S. citizens are imprisoned in Iran, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Sharghi, as well as an unknown number of permanent U.S. legal residents, including Shahab Dalili.

Namazi has been held prisoner in Iran longer than any other American in history. 

Iranian authorities sentenced him to 10 years on charges of “collaboration with a hostile foreign government.” The United Nations, human rights organizations and the U.S. government say that the charges are baseless and that his detention is an arbitrary violation of international law.

His elderly father, Baquer Namazi, was imprisoned in 2016 after having traveled to Iran to try to help his son. He was later released on medical furlough and then allowed to leave the country in October. 

When Namazi embarked on his hunger strike a week ago, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said, “We remain committed to securing the freedom of Siamak Namazi and we are working tirelessly to bring him home.”

In his statement from Evin prison, Namazi also referred to the women-led anti-regime protests in the streets of Iran, expressing his admiration for female political prisoners held at Evin. 

“Everyone here for the sole crime of speaking their mind and for demanding their rights and the rule of law deserves our attention and respect,” Namazi said. “I particularly want to shine a light on the indomitable political prisoners in the women’s ward. Just like outside, inside these walls these dauntless women face far more restrictions than the men do, yet they display the kind of courage that we, frankly, fail to pluck. They are truly an inspiration to us all.”

Iranian authorities have rejected accusations that Namazi and other foreigners are being held in violation of international law, saying the prisoners were tried in accordance with Iranian law. 

The Iranian government also has defended its mass arrest of protesters and activists, portraying the demonstrators as rioters or agents of foreign adversaries.